Poll: Tillis opens lead in NC GOP primary

North Carolina House Speaker Thom Tillis, the establishment favorite in the Republican Senate primary there, is surging ahead of the pack in a new survey of the race.

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The poll, conducted by SurveyUSA for the conservative Civitas Institute, gives Tillis 39 percent support among likely Republican primary voters. That brings Tillis just shy of the 40 percent he’d need to avoid a runoff after the May 6 election. 

And the survey shows him opening up a 19-point lead over his closest challenger, physician Greg Brannon, the Tea Party favorite in the race who nabbed the endorsement of Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.).

Baptist pastor Mark Harris takes 15 percent support, and the other five primary contenders all have less than 5 percent support. Nineteen percent of respondents are undecided.

Most polling of the primary has shown Tillis in the lead, with Brannon not far behind.

Tillis's strong showing in the new survey, with about two weeks left until the election and as early voting begins, coincides with the GOP group American Crossroads launching another ad supporting him.

The group has now invested more than $1.6 million over the past month on ads touting Tillis's conservative credentials.

And it appears those ads are working for Tillis: 56 percent of respondents in the new poll view him favorably, while about one-quarter view him unfavorably, and 21 percent say they have no opinion or don’t know the candidate.

National Republicans call Tillis the strongest contender to take on first-term Sen. Kay Hagan (D) in the general election, a top target for the GOP this fall as they try to win a majority in the Senate. 

The survey was conducted from April 16–22 among 392 likely GOP primary voters via landline and cellphone calls and has a margin of error of 5.1 percentage points.